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Steve Aschburner

Tommy Heinsohn, Mike Gorman
Tommy Heinsohn, left, and Mike Gorman, here in 2004, proudly admit to being homers.
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

The Q&A: Thirty years of calling, and rooting, for the Celts


Posted Dec 8 2010 11:25AM

The claim is that old married couples, the sort who stick it out through 20, 25 or 30 years or more, don't end up just sharing the same thoughts or finishing each other's sentences. They actually start to resemble each other, after mirroring each other's facial expressions and reactions for so very long.

Fortunately for Mike Gorman and Tommy Heinsohn, the Boston Celtics' television announcers who are celebrating their 30th anniversary as a team, their on-air "marriage" doesn't extend quite that far. Both would find a way to be unhappy about that outcome.

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They are, however, capable of thinking and reacting in tandem like an old married couple. That's why their work on Celtics telecasts on Comcast SportsNet has such a relaxed, easy feel; Gorman and Heinsohn function from the sidelines like a shooter and a rebounder in an empty gym, one feeding the other, switching off (though Gorman more often sets up Heinsohn's familiarly boisterous points).

The two have been at their posts, as partners, as long as or longer than any other NBA announcing team, carving out a comfort zone with viewers in New England and more recently across the nation. Gorman grew up in Dorchester, Mass., attended Boston Latin High. Heinsohn, of course, is the Celtics Hall of Famer as a player who won two more championships as the team's coach.

"They're honest," Boston head coach Doc Rivers said. "But they're clearly Celtics fans, and I don't think they or anyone else has a problem with that. They call it the way they see it, but they really love the franchise. They've been here a lot longer than all of us, and Tommy has more love for a team than any human being I've ever seen in my life."

I talked with Heinsohn and Gorman -- extended-family members of so many Celtics faithful -- last week before they worked the team's game in Cleveland:

NBA.com: In a relationship this long, there have to have been some ups and downs, doesn't there? Have you guys had any "hiccups?"

Mike Gorman: You mean like strangling each other? Is that what you're saying? What's your line?

Tom Heinsohn: We've only had one fight. And it's not over yet.

NBA.com: We wanted to make sure we got this correct: It's 30 years together, not your "30th anniversary" where you're actually working on year No. 31, right? Sometimes the math gets fuzzy with these anniversary things.

MG: See, I don't remember. And he's been here forever. But I do think this is our 30th year, though we actually did college basketball before that. We had a history coming in.

NBA.com: Oh, so you were able to make your mistakes in the minor leagues before getting promoted to the Celtics.

TH (in mock surprise): We don't make mistakes!

MG: We were just trying to work on some of our material.

NBA.com: How did you two come together?

MG: Tommy was going to get the [color analyst] job at the time, and I was one of a bunch of [play-by-play] candidates. He helped me out because we had some experience. I want to say, the first 15 years I did it, I had a one-year contract.

NBA.com: Was this the broadcasting job you always wanted?

MG: For me it was. I had gone to Boston State Teachers College and then had gone into the military and was a Naval aviator for five years. After that, I decided I would try to do something that I liked. Sports broadcasting was it, and I went from a radio station in New Bedford to a radio station in Providence to a television station in Providence. And that's where Tommy and I hooked up on the Providence College games. But Tommy had been doing the [Celtics] games with Red [Auerbach].

TH: Between the years I played and coached, I was the play-by-play guy!

MG: Actually they just kind of argued with each other. But what better deal could you have, sitting with Tommy and Red watching the game?

NBA.com: Did you two have instant chemistry? Any timing issues or kinks to work out?

TH: I had worked with other people. Mike and I kind of blend in together -- nobody controls our broadcasts. Other guys I worked with were either ex-radio guys and they were doing radio broadcasts on television. Or they're not sure what you're going to do, so they make sure they get all their notes into the broadcast. He by far is the easiest to work with.

NBA.com: Is it true that you discouraged Mike from doing a lot of formal preparation?

MG: That is true, though he denies it. What Tommy really taught me, if we really have a style, was that he said, "Look, don't worry about all that stuff. Let the game take you where the game wants to go." Which is true -- if you sit down with a bunch of notes that you've worked on for a day and a half, you're going to jam those notes in. Meanwhile, all this stuff is going on on the court that you miss. I just said, OK, and took the lead from him. I'm still following him.

NBA.com: Do you go back and watch old telecasts to critique yourselves? Any idea how much you've changed in your style, either intentionally or unintentionally?

MG: I can only speak for myself -- I'm more relaxed. I've always been a big believer that less is better. I'm not afraid of dead air. I like the sound of the ball hitting the court. I like sneaker squeaks. I enjoy sometimes when we're sitting there and I'm counting in my head, and I'm up to 13, 14 [seconds] and neither of is saying anything. I think that makes for good television myself. Because then when you do speak, people listen.

NBA.com: I haven't done the math but at 82 games a year plus playoffs, times 30 years, that's a lot of basketball and a lot of temptation to "take one off" every so often without actually taking one off. How do you stay passionate?

TH: I enjoy watching competitive people. You watch 'em come and you watch 'em go, and how they try to be the best. How they handle when they're not. How they handle when they are. How they get along together on the court. That's interesting to me, because I played with a group of players who were all great players and knew how to blend together, knew the personalities and what it took for them to do that. I'm still searching for that. This year's team is pretty much like the old Celtics teams.

MG: There are four, maybe five, Hall of Famers on this team. That's what Tommy had.

TH: There were eight Hall of Famers on our teams.

NBA.com: I always have wondered: Were those Celtics in the Bill Russell-era loaded with Hall of Fame players or did the Hall of Fame load up on Celtics because of all those championships?

TH: All smart, competitive people. That's what I'm talking about. Nobody was playing to be in the Hall of Fame. They were playing to win championships. If that brought you to the Hall of Fame, so be it.

NBA.com: Given your backgrounds, you two mesh perfectly with viewers of Boston Celtics telecasts. But how would you guys have gone over doing games for Portland or Indiana or Houston?

MG: You can't get any more involved with a franchise than Tommy -- Tommy's been with the Celtics for 50 years now. Think about that. Fifty years! Never wandering, never taking a job for just one year with some franchise somewhere -- he's just always been a Boston Celtic. I've been lucky enough that the first NBA job I got was the Boston Celtics, so I've never done another NBA team. I can't imagine doing another NBA team.

NBA.com: But Tommy, you did seven years of network broadcasts that didn't always involve the Celtics.

TH: I did the CBS games. It was difficult being a neutral broadcaster -- in the people's eyes -- because of my association with the Celtics. What I tried to do with the national games was completely different from what we're doing on the local broadcasts. Which was, try to get scouting reports on every team, sit down, go over them and figure out how I would try to beat the other team. All right? Then I would describe the weaknesses of each team that the other one was going to try to take advantage of. That's the first time that people in L.A. found out that their team had weaknesses. The first time that people in Boston found out that the Celtics had weaknesses.

So I had mixed reviews in Boston when I did those national broadcasts, believe it or not. They took it as criticism. When I work a Celtics game, all our listeners are Celtics supporters. They're more interested in what's going on with the Celtics than with LeBron James or anybody else. We do it from our perspective. A national game is completely different.

NBA.com: Have there been many nights when one of you had to miss the game and the other one soldiered on?

MG: I'd be surprised if there was a dozen.

TH: When my wife [Helen] became ill and it was coming down to the end -- she was ill for six years -- I didn't want to go on the road for long periods. At my age right now [76], I enjoy watching the games from back in the studio and doing my pre- and post-game shows, instead of traveling all over the place. So the last three or four years have been the most that we've been away from each other.

NBA.com: Do you have a favorite moment? A favorite game? A favorite call?

MG: My favorite thing is when we laugh. I mean that sincerely -- when we have a good time. Because then I really think we are giving people a chance to be just sitting with us as we watch a game, rather than talking at them. And we laugh a lot in our broadcasts.

NBA.com: How about a favorite Celtics player through the years?

TH: Guys who have accepted the challenge at the end of ball games. I didn't broadcast games with Havlicek, but Bird and Pierce now. And even Walter McCarty, who stood up to the challenge.

NBA.com: What was the deal with you and your "Waltah!" calls?

TH: A funny story on that is, when I was doing play-by-play, Bob Cousy was my color guy. And Cousy's a purist. He analyzes players, and if they're not up to his snuff ... but like I said, I like competitive people -- they don't have to be the most-skilled basketball players. Walter McCarty was the Energizer Bunny for his team. So when he did things, I started doing, "Boy, I love Walter." Cousy had enough of this after a while and he looked at me like I was crazy. Finally, we're up in Toronto and Walter hits a 3-point shot to win the game at the buzzer. And Cousy says, "I think I'm beginning to fall in love with Walter!" I said, "No. You cannot join the Walter McCarty Fan Club now. You have to write me a check." All of a sudden, we're getting e-mails from people: "How can I join the Walter McCarty Fan Club?" I had to go on the air and say, "I don't want to be the president of the Walter McCarty Fan Club. But the only one who has to pay to join is Cousy." And I said, "What we're going to do now, everybody who feels the same way I do about Walter, after each game throw your window open and scream at the top of your lungs, 'I love Walter!' " So a couple of weeks go by, we're getting all kinds of e-mails from Vermont and New Hampshire, the mothers were going, "Will you stop telling my kids to scream out the window?!"

NBA.com: Come to think of it, if there is a 45-year-old Celtics fan, that person started watching about the time you two began working the broadcasts. And if that fan has a 15-year-old, you're raising another generation of fans for this franchise.

MG: That's a scary thought. But you're right. It happens to both of us a lot, where a youngster will come up and ask for an autograph and as you sign, there's the father standing there. And the father says, "I grew up watching you." That's when it starts sinking in that you've been around for a while.

NBA.com: You have been the door into this team for so many Celtics fans.

MG: Tommy and I have never tried to not be homers. A lot of broadcasters do that, and I think it's a mistake. We are homers. We want to be homers. We want the Celtics to win every game if at all possible. That's where our heart is. I think people have known that from the very beginning. Plus we don't tell people over and over again how many people are in Paul Pierce's family or what college he went to -- they know that stuff. In this day and age of 150 or 200 television stations, people who come to watch us know exactly what they're going to get. it's not a surprise. It's not like they flip on us. Nobody stumbles upon Comcast SportsNet. You go to Comcast Sports Net to watch the Celtics games. I think we treat our viewers as intelligent Celtics fans.

NBA.com: What sort of feedback do you get from viewers?

TH: He's got a line about me. Tell him the line.

MG: Everybody 60 or over knows Tommy as a player. Everybody 40 or over knows Tommy as a coach. Everybody 20 or over knows Tommy as a broadcaster. And everybody 10 or under thinks he's Shrek.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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